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Morocco earthquake kills more than 1,000

NATHAN ROTT, HOST:

A rare powerful earthquake struck Morocco late Friday night, claiming thousands of lives. The US Geological Survey says the 6.8 magnitude quake lasted for several seconds in a region that lies along the fault lines of the European and African tectonic plates. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has been following the situation from France, and she joins us now. Hello, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hello, Nate.

ROTT: All right. So what's the latest?

BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, this earthquake took place about 11:30 Friday night. The epicenter was in the snowcapped Atlas Mountains, about 45 miles southwest of the popular tourist city of Marrakesh. And right now, rescue efforts are underway. All day in France, we've been seeing footage of, you know, cracked and collapsed buildings, cars under rubble and people running in panic. Morocco is a big French tourist destination, and also, a lot of French people live there and do business. Here is Franco-Moroccan businessman Youssef Dou (ph), interviewed on French TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YOUSSEF DOU: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: He said there were scenes of panic. People were running everywhere, including many tourists. He says he took his car out after it happened, and there were roads completely blocked with rubble. Minarets were collapsed, houses crumbled, and a lot of people were outside their houses who just didn't know what to do. You know, many are predicting the number of dead and injured is going to go way up from the 1,300 dead they've just announced.

ROTT: Wow. So you mentioned rescue efforts. What's the status of those rescue attempts?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it's very difficult because the most hard-hit area, the epicenter, is in the Atlas Mountains. You know, unlike this quake that recently hit Turkey, these mountains are not very densely populated, so that's good. But the traditional style of building there is rock and clay. It's not very resistant to earthquakes, so villages are very vulnerable. And right now, we are hearing talk about those impassable roads. So they're talking about rescue efforts going in by helicopter and even up steep mountain roads with donkeys.

The Moroccan army has been mobilized. International assistance has been pledged from across the world. French pledged to help. You know, there are close ties between France and Morocco. Morocco is a former French colony, and France has set up a crisis center in Morocco at its embassy. Already, there's one French person dead in the quake. And next-door neighbor Algeria, which cut ties with Morocco two years ago, has put aside the country's bad relations and opened its airspace to aid flights.

ROTT: Are earthquakes common in Morocco?

BEARDSLEY: You know, Morocco lies on a fault line, as we said, tectonic plates, the African plate and the Europe plate. And there was a seismic scientist, Pascal Bernard, who spoke on French TV today, and he explained it. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PASCAL BERNARD: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He said basically, the entire Atlas Mountain Range is an at-risk zone. He said they're fault lines that split apart slowly and irregularly once every thousand or 10,000 years, he said. So while an earthquake of this magnitude might have been a surprise on a human scale, he said it was not a surprise on a geological scale.

ROTT: So what kind of experience does Morocco have with earthquakes, then?

BEARDSLEY: Right. So it has an experience. You know, it had - but this is the biggest earthquake it has had in a hundred years. Even though it's on a fault line, the last, you know, major earthquake was in 1960. Twelve thousand people died. But many people interviewed in Morocco said today they're evoking it now, but it had largely been forgotten.

ROTT: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in France. Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Nate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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